Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A loss for austerity and a constitutional crisis in Lithuania

Lithuanians went to the polls in the second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday - and decisively gave their NeoLiberal government the boot. The Social Democrats look set to take power, with the support of the Labour and Order and Justice parties. They've promised to raise the minimum wage, tax the rich, and delay entry to the Euro to avoid Greek-style crucifixion. But there's a problem: the President is threatening to veto the government before it even begins:

Lithuania's president has threatened to block the new coalition being formed by three parties after a general election.

President Dalia Grybauskaite said she could not accept a government that included the Labour party, which came third in Sunday's poll but faces allegations of vote buying.

Labour was in advanced coalition talks with the first-placed Social Democrats, and the smaller Order and Justice.

The ruling conservatives looked certain to be ousted until the president spoke.

Details of the alleged vote-buying are here. They are currently being investigated, and the Labour party has made it clear that anyone involved will be expelled (of course, they would say that). So, there are definite questions about whether such a party is a fit partner for government. At the same time, the Lithuanian Constitution is crystal clear: it is not the President's place to say. Her job is simply to appoint as Prime Minister the person with the confidence of the Seimas, and she has no discretion in this. If the Seimas' choice for Prime Minister has the backing of the labour party, she has to accept that. If they then want Labour MPs appointed as Ministers, she has to appoint them. If she doesn't want to, she can resign. In this respect, Lithuania's president is an administrator, not a political actor, and certainly not a judge or prosecutor.

But then, this is all about being a political actor. Lithuania's president is a member of the formerly-ruling conservatives, and its hard to see this as anything other than an attempt to keep her friends in power and thwart the will of the people. It will be interesting to see whether she gets away with it.

(Meanwhile, the report of the OSCE's election monitors should eventually go up here)